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Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like thank the French–Norwegian Chamber of Commerce, Innovation Norway and the Norwegian Embassy for having organised this meeting. It is always interesting and useful to meet business leaders and hear directly how you see the current situation, and what you consider to be the challenges and opportunities ahead.
The subject of this meeting is “Industry and commerce, knowledge and competitiveness”. Let me start with a few words on the economic relations between Norway and France.
I would like to emphasise straight away that France is of utmost importance to Norway. It is our fifth largest trading partner. In 2013 the trade between our countries had a total value of approximately 9.7 billion euros. It is a pleasure for us to sell our natural gas, oil, fish and seafood to France. I am pleased to note that France is the biggest market for Norwegian salmon. More than 80 Norwegian companies, in many different sectors, are firmly established in France. Meanwhile, Norwegians are very happy to buy French cars, machinery and not least, French wine!
I am very pleased to see representatives from both French and Norwegian companies and organisations here today. A number of industries are represented. Many from the sectors I just mentioned, but also from the airline industry, the travel industry, the construction industry, the media, and others.
I would like to add that the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global is a major investor in France.
We also welcome the many French firms that operate in Norway in a broad range of sectors, including petroleum, manufacturing, IT, consultancy, and banking.
All this illustrates the close economic relations that already exist between Norway and France. I am confident that we can build on this, and expand our relations further.
Let me now return to the main issue this morning: How can we strengthen our ability to adapt and innovate, and thus increase our competitiveness?
The fact that European markets are struggling means that we must adapt to new market situations and take new and innovative approaches.
Wages in France and in Norway are among the highest in the world. In many ways this is positive, as it reflects a strong workforce. However, high wage levels mean higher costs and reduce competitiveness.
Although we have low unemployment in Norway, there are also many people outside the labour market. This is a problem not only for the people concerned but also for society at large. One of the biggest challenges in Europe is to make it possible for more people to get into the workforce.
I am especially concerned about youth unemployment and the possibilities for “lost generations” in many countries.
Structural reforms are needed to tackle this. I have learned with great interest about the French “responsibility pact” drawing together an impressive reform agenda. I am looking forward to discussing this with the President of the Republic later today. We need political vitality to regain strong growth and full employment in Europe.
The most important thing we politicians can do is to manage our economy responsibly, and with caution and care.
This means making sure that our economic framework conditions are predictable and enhance the competitiveness of our businesses.
To avoid overheating the economy – and thereby compromising our competitive sectors – we remain restrictive when it comes to spending income from our oil and gas sector.
In our political platform, the Government focuses on four important areas for business:
- increasing competitiveness;
- reducing red tape and non-beneficial regulations and requirements;
- increasing spending on infrastructure;
- and increasing skills and expertise.
We will pursue a policy that enhances the competitiveness of our businesses and enables them to adapt, innovate and add value.
Let me give an example. We have already taken steps to change the tax system. And we will take further steps to ensure that the tax system facilitates economic activities and does not create unnecessary obstacles. Needless to say, we need tax income to finance an efficient public sector that also adds value, for example through education, health and social security.
We will also pursue a policy that makes everyday life and business easier, both for people and for businesses. We want to encourage entrepreneurs, business owners and employees to create more value.
We intend to improve infrastructure. This will make it easier to do business, both nationally and internationally. Good communications systems make information and knowledge more accessible. Roads and railways are vital for maintaining and creating housing and labour markets throughout the country. It improves flexibility. This again adds value.
My Government also intends to invest heavily in people, boosting their skills and knowledge. The value of our present and future work force represents 81 % of our national wealth. This is five times our total invested capital and petroleum wealth.
Through sound investment in education and research, we will create a solid foundation for the further development of the workforce and for future innovation and value creation.
We also intend to foster markets that work well – in our best interests. Markets should be our servant, not our master.
Governments have a role to play in situations where markets do not always ensure that resources are used in the most effective way. We have to support research. We have to put a price on pollution, so that private costs reflect social costs. We have to safeguard the rights of the population to social security.
At the same time we have to promote competition at local, regional, national, international and global level. The competition authorities play an important role here. The trade associations also play an important role. We must ensure that the financial markets are regulated in a good and efficient way. And we must create a strong labour market and a good social safety net.
These are some of the reasons why I believe in the exchange of goods and services and in free trade. Trade in local, national, and international markets, including trade between Norway and France, increases value added and builds welfare.
Norway and France are open economies. We both benefit from our trade in goods and services. We sell what we produce and buy what we need. This means that we can specialise in what we do best. For example, Norwegian salmon and French wine. Other countries do the same. And in this way, total value added increases and there is more to share.
Now I look forward to hearing your perspectives, how you see the situation. What opportunities do you see? What challenges do you face?